As India got down to their first practice session at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, ahead of the first Test against the West Indies starting on Thursday, Anil Kumble gathered his players around and called for a team huddle. What he told the team was quite inaudible, but then all 17 players warmed up with two laps of the ground.
It was almost akin to a human train, something seen regularly in a school playground than in the practice session of an international cricket team. It was a departure from their usual warm-up ritual of running in groups of two or three, and for their part, the players seemed to enjoy it.
And this has been the underlining importance of Kumble’s three-week period as Indian coach thus far – soaking in the fun whilst preparing for a big series.
From re-introducing John Wright’s ‘buddy’ programme, to frolicking on the beaches in the Caribbean, to horse riding and snorkelling, to sweating it out in the nets, this has been a seamless transition from Ravi Shastri’s tenure as team director.
Whether he steps onto the training field with clipboard in hand, or watches net practice from the umpire’s position, Kumble doesn’t seem out of place never mind his relative coaching inexperience.
Sachin Tendulkar on the new Indian head coach Anil Kumble. pic.twitter.com/IWfc1oOmfm— CricFit (@CricFit) July 13, 2016
A factor herein has been the immense respect the current squad has for the legendary leg-spinner, enhanced obviously by his achievements on the field of play.
Kumble only retired in 2008, when most of these Indian players were just about beginning to make a mark for themselves. Consequently, this is an integration of Indian cricket’s golden generation with its aspirations for the future.
“All of these Indian players will have seen him play and it will help them bond together,” said West Indies’ legendary pacer and now selector, Courtney Walsh, in the build-up to the first Test. “Kumble has been involved with cricket quite a lot since he stopped playing, so he knows the ins and outs of the game.
“His passion for the game is second to none, and is reflected in the manner this Indian team is led by Virat Kohli. I like to read body language and I can see how he wants to lead from the front.”
While Kumble will be gunning for success in his first outing as coach, Kohli will be looking at the larger picture. India are on the cusp of a hat-trick of Test series wins here in the Caribbean, after Rahul Dravid and MS Dhoni led their sides to 1-0 victories in 2006 and 2011, respectively.
At the same time, the Indian skipper will also be hoping to keep a triumphant Test-run going, having won 2-1 in Sri Lanka and 3-0 at home against South Africa last year.
The visitors have had a good three weeks to prepare for the four-match contest here, including a camp in Bangalore and two practice matches in St Kitts. It is the longest run-in to a Test series the Indian team has had in recent years, and they might not get the same chance in the months to come.
Indeed this Test series lends itself into an extensive home season wherein India host New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia back-to-back, for 13 Tests from late September to March 2017. Starting with the slow wickets in the West Indies to even-more familiar conditions back home, this run could see them challenge for the Test No. 1 ranking.